In a report released this week by the Stockholm Academic Forum (Staf), the number of international students in Stockholm have now reached almost 10,000, accounting for as much as 11 percent of the total student population. This is a 20 percent rise in the past three years alone, and Chinese students are for the first time spearheading the development, followed closely by Finnish, German and French students.
“It's a really positive trend, and we're now at looking at the same levels that we'd reached before 2011,” Staf CEO Maria Fogelström Kylberg told The Local, referring to Sweden's 2011 introduction of tuition fees for non-EU students which translated into a sudden drop in international student numbers.
Although some of Stockholm's 18 higher education institutions, including the KTH Royal Institute of Technology – the top pick among Chinese students – have spent years developing stronger ties with Chinese and other foreign academic institutions to bring up international student numbers, the increase is also thanks to returning alumni spreading the word back home.
“They become ambassadors of sorts, and share the experiences they've had here with other would-be students,” Fogelström Kylberg said, noting that although “the number one priority when students pick an academic destination is the quality of the education they will get, the actual place in itself is a strong runner-up”.
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Students in the library at Stockholm University. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT
So what makes Stockholm such a great place to study in?
Well, according to surveys conducted by Staf, it seems to be a mix of Sweden's culture and democratic values.
“In Sweden, you can call the teacher by their first name, and it's easy to approach them if you have questions. It's a very democratic student-teacher relationship that is quite unique,” said Fogelström Kylberg.
Sweden's equality between men and women is also a strong point.
“Especially considering it's not that evident in other parts of the world,” she said.
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Other strong contributors to students deciding to come to Stockholm is the fact that (almost) everyone speaks English and that the city is clean and sustainable, with a strong focus on the environment.
“Because everyone speaks English here, they feel like they can actually live here, and that they will enjoy a nice quality of life,” said Fogelström Kylberg.
Sweden's relatively low levels of crime is another reason.
“Security plays a role, and let's not forget that many parents often weigh in on the choice of destination too.”
Finally, Stockholm's reputation as a melting pot for innovation, complete with its flourishing startup scene, is gaining a greater and greater appeal.
“We are, and have always been, very innovative here. And if you look at the startups in Stockholm, most of their founders got their education at the universities here,” she said.
Staf is the peak collaborative body of the City of Stockholm and its 18 higher education institutions.